A modern twist on tradition

At ‘Mutelu Mutelu’ running at TCDC, entrepreneurs showcase their creativity with unique superstitious objects

Lucky phone cases. (Photos: Somchai Poomlard)

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives and caused uncertainty about the future. As a result, many Thais have turned to superstitious objects, causing the market to grow.

Nakorn Chiamrueangcharat, project co-ordinator of Thailand Creative & Design Center (TCDC), noticed the trend and decided to organise “Mutelu Mutelu (Superstitions)”, which displays products from 34 entrepreneurs. The products relate to superstitious beliefs such as lucky phone wallpaper, phone cases, ancestral and miniature altars, and clothes with talismans.

“The exhibition is part of TCDC’s ‘Creative And Design Showcase’ project to provide space for entrepreneurs to showcase their creativity. Last year, we held an exhibition about scented candles. Since people spent so much time at home during the pandemic, they became interested in decorating, leading to an increase in sales of scented candles. Many new brands of scented candle were launched. This year, I noticed many products related to superstitious beliefs were launched such as lucky phone numbers and coloured clothes. I am not superstitious, but I think this kind of marketing is interesting,” Nakorn said.

Nakorn cited the survey “Marketing In The Uncertain World” by the College of Management Mahidol University (CMMU) in 2021, that showed how the marketing of superstitious objects had grown. The survey collected data from 1,200 samples from different generations, including 6.7% baby boomers (56 to 74 years old), 17.4% from Gen X (40-55), 54.4% from Gen Y (24-39) 54.4%, and 21.6% from Gen Z (8-23). The results indicated that most surveyed participants were worried about the pandemic (76.8%), environment (74.6%), social issues (65%), economics (64%), technology (62.8%) and politics (62.6%).

Since the sample represented the entire population, the survey concluded that people tried to increase certainty in their lives by relying on superstitious beliefs (52 million people), following influencers (47 million people) and participating in communities (66 million people). The top five superstitious beliefs included fortune telling (68.1%), amulets and lucky charms (57.9%), lucky colours (42.8%), lucky numbers (36.9%) and supernatural elements (27.5%).

“The survey explained that superstitious beliefs affected markets. In the past three years, more people have been looking for superstitious objects. Since TCDC’s project is called ‘Creative And Design Showcase’, I did not focus on only superstitious beliefs. Products which were selected are distinctive, relevant to the theme and have an interesting presentation,” said Nakorn.

Lucky cat.

The exhibition has a wide range of products created by 34 entrepreneurs and include brands and products such as Aviva Spirit, Manee, Collector Project, Kaiju Smuggler, Agapae, Mu-teworld and E-Ka.

Aviva Spirit has made ancestral altars since its establishment in 2012. People at Aviva Spirit found that traditional red Chinese-style ancestral altars did not fit well with modern homes or apartments so they made them more modern with marble material, and minimal design in white and cream colours. Every ancestral altar is claimed to be created based on feng shui principles and supervised by a famous feng shui master. Nakorn said many viewers particularly visit the exhibition to see altars from Aviva Spirit.

Meanwhile, Manee are lamps designed by the stained-glass company Kazz. To reduce waste, glass is cut in specific shapes such as squares, rectangles and trapezoids. These specific shapes are used to create vase lamps or Manee in several colours. Each colour represents lucky gemstones. Manee can also be used as a vase at shrines or altars.

Collector Project is a part of a fashion collection by renowned designer Ek Thongprasert. The items on display include shirts with talismans. People believe there are many kinds of talismans and each kind can bring luck, money or safety.

The art toy brand Kaiju Smuggler displays two collections — Lowpoly Ganesha and Yaksha: Tha Tien. The stylish Ganesha and Giant can be used either as figures for display or as sacred objects to worship.

Nang Kwak (Beckoning Lady).

Agapae, a graphic designer, cartoonist and NFT artist, created paintings of Chinese gods. He designed props in his paintings to be more contemporary. In the painting God Of Fortune, there are Bitcoins and stock assets. Meanwhile, the painting Lord Wen Chang represents helping students to be successful in their studies with an image of a tablet being held and the student with a computer.          

Two entrepreneurs, Mu-teworld and E-Ka, provide lucky mobile phone wallpapers. While products of Mu-teworld are created based on Tarot cards and fortune telling, E-Ka mobile phone wallpaper involves Hindu deities such as Sadasiva and Ganesha. Viewers can get free fortune readings by scanning QR codes at the E-Ka showcase and receive discounts for Mu-teworld’s products by getting one of the capsules from Gashapon, a kind of vending machine.

Nakorn said “Mutelu Mutelu” so far has received both positive and negative feedback from viewers.

“Some viewers were interested in the products and want contact information for the entrepreneurs. The contact information is available at the showcase in QR code format or they can go to connect.cea.or.th where entrepreneurs have information about their companies and products. People can search for entrepreneurs there. One viewer was disappointed because he expected to see sacred objects and supernatural stories. Apart from this exhibition, there were events about superstitious beliefs. For example, the Tourism Authority of Thailand held the ‘Khon Hua Luk Festival (Goosebump Festival)’ at Makkasan Train Factory in May. The activities included making merit, wearing ghost costumes and Ouija. I think Thais are stressed and need something to hold onto,” Nakorn said.

Ganesh by Kaiju Smuggler.

Among the 34 entrepreneurs, Nakorn commented that Aviva Spirit and Kaiju Smuggler make interesting products because they can be further developed.

“Aviva Spirit can expand its products to include Buddhist wall altars or small altars for apartments or stores. Kaiju Smuggler can focus on the art aspect and use different storytelling methods to launch more products,” he said.

Some people may think the exhibition will encourage people to become more interested in superstitious objects or stories. Nakorn explained that the exhibition will present new aspects of products to visitors.

“The exhibition will attract viewers who believe in superstitions and they will see new aspects apart from luck or sacredness because the exhibition focuses more on creativity. Design and creativity make products look friendlier and less ominous. People will feel more comfortable owning these products and they won’t look like superstitious people. On weekends, TCDC members can visit a workshop that allows members to create their own bracelets from multicoloured stones. Members who either want a stylish bracelet or a lucky bracelet can attend the workshop,” he said.

“I hope that the exhibition will help people learn about entrepreneurs and their products, so their brands can gain more customers. If the entrepreneurs receive positive feedback, they may expand their product lines in the future,” said Nakorn.

“Mutelu Mutelu” runs at TCDC, Central Post Office, until Aug 28.
Admission is free. For more information, visit facebook.com/tcdc.thailand

Viewers can get free fortune readings by scanning QR codes at the E-Ka showcase.

Nakorn Chiamrueangcharat, project co-ordinator of Thailand Creative & Design Center.

Shirts with talismans designed by Ek Thongprasert.

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